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Florida Officials: Katrina Devastated Mississippi Police Agencies

Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) -- Florida law enforcement officers dispatched to Mississippi to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have found the police there so devastated that they don't even have enough patrol cars.

Florida officials are checking throughout their own state to see if any agencies have patrol cars they could donate to their Mississippi counterparts. More than 400 Florida law enforcement officers have been dispatched to Mississippi to help with search and rescue, humanitarian and patrol efforts.

''We found that many of the law enforcement personnel there are victims themselves. They have no place to go. Their vehicles have been destroyed, their homes have been destroyed,'' said Tom Berlinger, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. ''In some instances, they need as much help as the general citizenry.''

The Florida teams include more than 200 state law enforcement members, 173 sheriffs' deputies and 42 municipal police officers, Berlinger said.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission crews took boats and other equipment to aid in the search for people trapped in floodwaters, and the Florida National Guard sent 19 members who specialize in urban search and rescue to southern Mississippi as well.

The National Guard aviation team took three Blackhawk helicopters and a Chinook helicopter to aid in searches in three counties of southern Mississippi bordering the Gulf.

Asked whether the disaster caught emergency management officials unprepared, Berlinger replied that ''This is a catastrophic event that almost defies imagination,'' and it would be difficult to prepare for event of that magnitude.

Many agencies and individuals across Florida have joined in the effort to aid hurricane victims in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Navy units from three Florida bases mobilized to aid in the recovery efforts, as well. Naval Hospital in Jacksonville was sending 84 people from a casualty and treatment ship to Pensacola, then to the USS Bataan. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff were scheduled to depart from Jacksonville at 6 a.m. Thursday. The Bataan is equipped to serve as a hospital ship capable of handling large numbers of casualties.

Naval bases in Pascagoula and Gulf Port, Miss., were ''flooded out,'' and suffered power losses, said Naval Petty Officer Michael Scott. The Navy is investigating possible injuries at the bases, which have 5,300 combined active duty personnel.
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